Tonight, April 1st, 2020 we are doing our first ever live online meditation class. This is exciting (can I admit it’s actually somewhat terrifying). We can reconnect with the community that have been meeting weekly for several years but are now isolated and unable to meet in person because of the virus. We can reconnect with people that have moved away and been unable to join us because of the geography. And we can connect with people who have never, and maybe never would have joined us before.

While there are many advantages to the technology that allow this, there are advantages to showing up in person that we will miss and I believe are worth considering as we get ready for online classes.

If you show up in person, your time has been committed.

Once you’re at the gym or at a meditation class, that time has been allotted. Mentally you might wish you hadn’t, but whether you like it or not you are going to be there for the next hour or however long the class lasts.

Online – you always have options. You can do this class for a few minutes and easily then go and do something else for a few minutes.

You have to make an effort to show up somewhere physical

The hardest part of going to the gym is showing up. The point being that it takes a bit of effort to get organized enough to plan on travel time, to find parking, to remember an umbrella, to get a babysitter or whatever it is you need to do.

Once you’ve made that effort you feel the need to get something out of that effort. You’ve done the hard part, now you just have to follow through.

Online requires a bit of effort – but not a lot. You have to login, perhaps reset the password, or find the email with the meeting invite. But that’s about it. Not much invested. If you change your mind, it’s no big deal.

Less distraction

Most physical locations aren’t constantly trying to get you to do something other than what you’re doing right now. Your mind will do its usual thing of getting distracted and thinking about other things, but at least you’re not (or probably not, depending on how old you are) constantly looking at a screen with lots of other tempting alerts, programs, and other pulls on your attention.

Social pressure

This seems like the silliest, but is perhaps the most powerful piece. If I take a class at the gym I might realize about ten minutes in that this has been a serious mistake. But some dumb concern of worrying that I’ll look like a wimp if I leave early means I stay. Most of us stay. And at the end, we have had the benefit of sticking it out.

When you attend a meditation class in person, there is a similar pressure. The instructor can see you, your fellow participants can see you. If you leave, everyone knows.

Online – no one’s going to know. You can just log off. Or you can even stay logged in but turn the camera off, hit the mute button and do your email, check the news, shop on Amazon, or read funny posts on Instagram.


It’s about attention, attention, and attention

Meditation is all about attention.

No matter what you want out of meditation, whether it’s a bit of stress relief and relaxation, or if you want mystical union with the universe it all starts with learning about our attention.

In basic, and perhaps even in intermediate meditation we are spending a lot of time playing with our attention. We notice where it goes. We practice directing it in specific ways. We observe our distractions. And gradually we learn how our attention works and how to make it work for us instead of against us.

One of the biggest advantages to in person meditation is that by being in a space physically with other people, there are reinforcing boundaries to your attention.

If you look around the room you will be reminded of what you’re doing right now. You can’t really get up and leave. You can’t really get on your phone and check email. You can’t really pretend to be meditating while actually seeing if Nordstrom has the shoes you like back in stock.

The very thing that we are trying to learn about in meditation is the very thing that is going to drag us away from our practice when we’re online. Our attention is always being pulled all over the place, but online we lack some of the boundaries that can help us at least stay focused enough to learn a bit more about our attention, and get the benefits that come with this meditation thing.


Having noticed the difficulties with online learning – what to do?

See if you can commit your time.

Just recognize that your attention is going to wander. You will be tempted to stop and do something else. There are powerful temptations to check on the news, on loved ones, on emails etc. See if you can see these temptations as they arise – that can be part of the meditation practice – and see if you can resist the urge.

If you find yourself doing email, checking news or whatever, it’s not the end of the world. It’s not a crime, you’re not a bad person. You’re not undisciplined. You just let your wandering attention decide your next action – and we all do that a lot of the time. But then, notice that it happened. See if you can refocus and recommit to trying to keep your attention in the class. And please don’t think that just because you did these things it means you’ve ruined the experience. It’s not a reason to quit the session. Just log back in.

Consider this as an investment.

Meditation is partly about taking a break and giving your mind a breather from the relentless churning that happens between your ears.

So take the break.

Make an investment of an hour, ninety minutes, or whatever it is to bring your mental health back into balance. This is going to pay dividends for the rest of your day, and the rest of your week.

And – the pay off is more than just for you.  It’s exponential since it will end up affecting every person you interact with since you’ll be the better part of you rather than the more frazzled part of you.

Do your best to minimize the distractions

See if you can let people in your house know you’re unavailable for the next period of time.

Unlike showing up in person you probably can’t turn on Airplane mode on your phone because you need the Internet connection for the class. However, (but I know this is a difficult one), you can turn off ‘Notifications’ on your phone.

Some of you will immediately object to this – “I can’t turn that off. What if so and so calls, or such and such happens” – I know, this is a big ask for some of you but do what you can. If you were asleep you wouldn’t get the call / the text / the update. If you were out for a run you wouldn’t get it.

The truth for most of us is that 99.99% of things can wait – we can call them back, text them later, check the news after we’ve got your head straight. It’s just that we think we can’t. But going back to the previous point – this is about taking a break. Give yourself that gift of putting everything on hold – just for a few minutes.

On the other hand some of you are pissed off now because I’ve asked you to do some complicated technology thing with your phone or computer. How do you turn off notifications? Yes – I struggle with this as well and I’m pretty tech savvy. But I have found that on my phone / tablet – these are Apple gizmos – I go into Settings, and there is a cool little on / off feature called Do Not Disturb. When I want to focus, I just turn that on – and temporarily (until you turn it back off again) all your calls and notifications can stop. If you need to, you can set it to block almost everything but allow calls from a specific group of people like family, or friends if that helps.

Based on this article – I believe there is a similar feature on Android phones in Settings, and then in Sound, there is a Do Not Disturb option which you can set up.


It’s a journey

Meditation class isn’t about getting information, it’s an experience. See if you can stay on for the whole ride.

When I’m about ten minutes into a workout class I wish I hadn’t joined it. My breathing has started to be labored, my muscles hurt, my joints hurt, and usually my pride hurts at just how out of shape I clearly am. But by the end of it I’m glad I stuck around. My body warmed up, I survived the challenges, got the endorphins that come with exercise, and tension has been released. The class ends up being a bit of a journey with different experiences along the way, not all pleasant by any means, but to get the full benefit you have to stick it out.

A good meditation class is going to do the same thing. There will be many moments when you are distracted, frustrated, or even bored, but if you can stick it out something happens over the duration of a class. You start with your mind in whatever state its in, and so long as you can stay somewhat focused and just keep doing the exercises your mind will gradually alter, your stress will ease, your attention will steady, and by the end of it you will be in a completely different state of consciousness and wellbeing than where you started.


So, please consider the extra challenges your attention is going to face by attending online and see if you can do your best to minimize them in order to get what you want to get out of the class.